Manchester United and Manchester City’s Premier League clash on Saturday will have Bruno Fernandes and Kevin De Bruyne at its beating heart.
Manchester United’s dependence on the Portugal international has steadily grown since he arrived at Old Trafford in January, to the point where Red Devils results have become intertwined with his own performance levels.
In the Premier League this season, he tops United’s charts for goals, key passes and shots, while he ranks joint-first for assists alongside Marcus Rashford and second for tackles after Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
De Bruyne, meanwhile, has become the stand-alone centre-piece of City’s midfield since David Silva’s departure during the summer. Pep Guardiola’s engine room has become less of a double-No.8 setup and more of a 4-2-3-1, with two less adventurous midfielders supporting the Belgian playmaker.
Therefore, the coming Manchester derby could well hinge on which midfield talisman makes the bigger impact on the game. But who is likeliest to do so? While every Premier League fan will have their own opinions on who the better player is, the statistics make very interesting reading.
Admittedly, however, there is some difference in sample size – whereas the United star’s made just 24 Premier League appearances for the Red Devils, De Bruyne has registered 136 for City under Guardiola.
Nonetheless, from those time periods Fernandes is the clear winner. For per-game returns, he averages more goals (0.6 to 0.2), dribbles (1.6 to 1.4), shots (3.1 to 2.5), tackles (1.7 to 1.4), passes (57 to 56) and fewer times dispossessed (1 to 1.2).
However, some metrics were in De Bruyne’s favour. He’s produced superior returns for key passes (3 to 2.7) and has a better pass completion rate (76% to 81%), while both midfielders were drawn on assists per game at 0.5.
The statistics suggest De Bruyne is slightly more creative while taking better care of the ball – a defining aspect of Fernandes’ play is the relentlessness in which he pursues high risk, high reward passes.
However, Fernandes carries the greater goal threat and while City fans will insist that’s because the 26-year-old enjoys a monopoly over United’s penalties, when we remove his seven Premier League spot kicks from the equation, he still averages more goals per game (0.3 to 0.2) than De Bruyne – and that’s without excluding the Belgian’s goals from penalties.
Of course, statistics are never as black and white as they seem and there are always far more variables involved than initially meets the eye. Nonetheless, the numbers do attest that both players influence games to a similar degree, and that ultimately there isn’t a huge amount to choose between them.
That should see Saturday’s game result in perhaps the most interesting midfield battle we’ll see all season in the Premier League.